Joseph Thomson and the Exploration of Africa
“He who goes gently goes safely; he who goes safely goes far.”
Joseph Thomson led six expeditions into uncharted areas of Africa. He opened up new routes to Lake Nyasa and Victoria Nyanza, was the first white man to enter the Rift Valley, mapped huge expanses of what are now Kenya, Morocco and Nigeria, made important scientific discoveries about Lake Tanganyika, Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya and discovered Thomson’s Falls (named after his father) as well as new species of plants and animals, including Thomson’s Gazelle.
Gifted with phenomenal stamina and fitness, Thomson is also famous for his reliance on friendly words and persuasion, rather than threats of violence, when faced with difficult situations on his travels. In all his expeditions, none of his travelling companions met a violent end.
“…my fondest boast is, not that I have travelled over hundreds of miles hitherto untrodden by the foot of a white man, but that I have been able to do so as a Christian and a Scotchman, carrying everywhere goodwill and friendship, finding that a gentle word was more potent than gunpowder, and that it was not necessary, even in Central Africa, to sacrifice the lives of men in order to throw light upon its dark corners.”
‘Dumfries & Galloway Standard’ 15 Sep 1880
It is tragic that Thomson died – in 1895, at the age of only 37 – from illnesses acquired during his expeditions.
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